Flash Forward: Omnibot

Today we travel to a world with universal translation devices.

Where the babelfish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes true (although probably not in the form of an evolved organism, but let’s not fret about the details).

We start this episode with Barry Slaughter Olsen, who’s the co-president of Interpret America. Barry tells us all about what interpreting and translation actually is, and why it will be really hard to replace human translation with machines.

Then we talked to Julie Sedivy, a writer and language scientist based in Calgary. She helps us think about what these kinds of devices might do for language loss and cultural assimilation of immigrants. Do people still learn English when they move to America or Canada?

Last we talked to Erin McKean, the editor of Wordnik, the world’s largest English Language dictionary. She walks us through a ton of fun future possibilities like branded Taylor Swift language plugins and online translation truthers.

Links and references mentioned in today’s episode:

Flash Forward is produced by me, Rose Eveleth, and is part of the Boing Boing podcast family. The intro music is by Asura and the outtro music is by Broke for Free. Special thanks this week to Ciarán Doyle, David Faiz, Josh Newman and Noé Ramalleira. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky.

If you want to suggest a future we should take on, send us a note on RedditTwitterFacebook or by email at info@flashforwardpod.com. We love hearing your ideas! And if you think you’ve spotted one of the little references I’ve hidden in the episode, email us there too. If you’re right, I’ll send you something cool.

And if you want to support the show, there are a few ways you can do that too! We have a Patreon page, where you can donate to the show. But if that’s not in the cards for you, you can head to iTunes and leave us a nice review or just tell your friends about us. Those things really do help.

 

Flash Forward is a critically acclaimed podcast about the future.

In each episode, host Rose Eveleth takes on a possible (or not so possible) future scenario — everything from the existence of artificial wombs, to what would happen if space pirates dragged a second moon to Earth. What would the warranty on a sex robot look like? How would diplomacy work if we couldn’t lie? Could there ever be a black market for fecal transplants? (Complicated, it wouldn’t, and yes, respectively, in case you’re curious.) By combining audio drama and deep reporting, Flash Forward gives listeners an original and unique window into the future, how likely different scenarios might be, and how to prepare for what might come.


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